The aim of this study was to ascertain if oestrogen receptor (ER) status predicts for pathological complete response (pCR) to neoadjuvant chemotherapy in operable breast cancer, and the effects of pCR on survival. Using a single-institution database, 435 patients were identified, who received neoadjuvant chemotherapy for operable breast cancer and were eligible for the analysis. Patients whose tumours were ER negative were more likely to achieve a pCR than patients who were ER positive (21.6 vs 8.1%, P<0.001). Owing to a strong correlation between ER status and grade, these variables were not shown to be independent predictors of pCR. Overall survival (OS) was better in those patients who achieved a pCR compared to those who did not (5-year OS 91 vs 73%; P=0.02). This was still the case when only patients with ER-negative tumours were examined (5-year OS 90 vs 52%, P=0.005), but not in the subset of patients with ER-positive tumours (5-year OS 93 vs 79%; P=0.3). Therefore, patients with ER-negative tumours were found to be more likely to achieve a pCR to neoadjuvant chemotherapy than those with ER-positive tumours, and pathological response did not have prognostic significance in patients with ER-positive tumours.